A researcher in Glasgow has created "cell-like bubbles" from metal, and given them properties that usually belong to biological life, reports New Scientist's Katharine Sanderson. The building blocks for these metal cells, or polyoxometalates, are metal atoms linked to oxygen and phosphorus. Once mixed in solution, the polyoxometalates self-assemble into cell-like shapes, Sanderson says, and the resulting inorganic chemical cells, called iCHELLS, can take on the characteristics of natural living cells. "For example, an oxide with a hole as part of its structure becomes a porous membrane, selectively allowing chemicals in and out of the cell according to size, just like the walls of biological cells," she adds. In a study recently published in Angewandte Chemie, the team describes how it created bubbles within bubbles, which mimic the compartments inside living cells. "Better yet, they have started imbuing the iCHELLs with the equipment for photosynthesis by linking some oxide molecules to light-sensitive dyes," Sanderson says. It's still early to tell what utility these metal cells might have for synthetic biology as it has not been proven that they are capable of carrying DNA. Theoretically, it may be possible, and could be the first step to proving that metal-based life may exist somewhere in the universe, she adds.
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